Woah, did I say in my last post that an old story of mine was going up “tomorrow”? Which would have been, like, a month ago? No, I couldn’t have. I think, when I typed “tomorrow”, what I meant to type was “sometime in September”, I just spelled it really, really wrong.
So here’s the one I was talking about. Posted exactly when I said I would.
There’s music playing in the background, badly. The selection could use some improvement as well. We were speculating earlier that the musician is probably related to the restaurant’s owner—nepotism, that great equalizer. But I’m into my third glass of wine—miles behind my rambling friend here—and the buzz is smoothing out the rougher edges nicely. Even Barry Manilow on an out-of-tune guitar is bearable after your third Merlot.
It’s a small restaurant. “Atmosphere” they advertise; cramped it is. You can only apologize for so many inadvertent elbows for so long before it all descends into absurdity. Or a brawl. Thankfully, this appears to be a crowd of the former. My knees, on the other hand, are black and blue and know the underside of our off-balance table too well. I imagine I’ll be feeling them—and everything else—rather vividly tomorrow morning. God bless Merlot—but God really loves two aspirin and a glass of water before bed.
It’s an Italian restaurant, supposedly. The menu is in Italian, and there’s enough garlic hanging to invade Transylvania with, but there isn’t a pasta dish or a clam in sight. It’s good, don’t get me wrong; in fact, it’s already gone. It’s getting pretty late, and most of the new customers wandering in are wearing blazers and pearls—it’s time to go. Except our second bottle’s only half empty, and we both know we’ve only got a few more of these Romantic Evenings left in us, so we’re lingering.
It’s over, almost, for us. You couldn’t tell from the outside, and, hey, we’re doing a pretty decent job of ignoring it ourselves. But we’re lingering, and we know it. It’s not exactly devastating. Oh, hopefully it’ll happen as a fight, so she can cry and throw things and I can yell and get righteously pissed-drunk afterwards. But it’s coming regardless. I can feel it lurking just a couple of tomorrows away.
So, we linger.
But we’re not the only ones. Just across the aisle from us, actually. She’s by herself, has been since we first came in. I can only imagine the scene we missed. Just as we were showing up, a big, burly man came storming out of the restaurant’s front door. I hope to God I never have on my face the expression he had on his. He looked damned. Like whatever had been haunting him had finished its work and seen that it was good. He brushed by us without noticing, and I probably would’ve forgotten all about it except, when we went inside, the place was silent, not a word or a clank or warbly Fmaj7 cord in sight. And all eyes were on this woman, this woman we ended up sitting just across the aisle from.
If he looked bad, she was worse. Still is, as far as my surreptitious glances can tell. Her table is as small as ours, and was set for two, but—and this is what’s absolutely killing me, and probably her as well—along the edge of the table are four or five crayons, strewn across a half-finished child’s activity place-mat. The man who left didn’t have a little one in tow behind him, and there’s no one else at the table with her now, and so the question I still haven’t been able to answer is: where the hell is the kid? I don’t know and still don’t know.
She has a glass of wine—whatever plates and silverware she had were picked up a while ago—and occasionally she takes a polite sip from it, probably without realizing she’s doing it. She doesn’t look like she’s paying much attention to anything right now. I’ve seen couples waiting by the door for a table, and given how rude our waiter has been to us, I’d expected someone to ask her to leave a long time ago. But they haven’t yet. In fact, part of the crampedness at our table is a result of everyone who uses the aisle’s swerving around her, ending up in our laps. And no one’s staring anymore. Maybe there is some compassion left in this world after all, people who won’t kick you, no matter how gently, out of their way when you’re down.
Her make-up is still in place, same with her hair. She doesn’t look like she’s been crying. Her dress is nice but doesn’t look very expensive. If I had to guess I’d say she was just the other side of thirty. She’s wearing a bracelet and stud earrings but nothing on her fingers or around her neck. If I weren’t still lingering, I might wonder if she was attractive. Her napkin is folded in her lap, a streak on a dangling end showing that it’s done its job. But I can’t get over those crayons. They aren’t set so that she or the person sitting across from her would have used them.
I think it’s time to go. There’s still a little wine left, but I have some more at home if we need it. No more lingering; dinner’s over.